A smartphone app which gives patients the option to video chat with their GP has been launched in London.
The free NHS, GP at Hand service, promises to cut waiting times by allowing patients to book appointments and talk to their doctor through their smartphones.
A handful of practices across the capital are to begin trialing the service which also gives patients the option of having prescriptions delivered to a pharmacy of their choice.
A spokesperson from NHS England said: “We want to ensure that all patients have access to high quality primary care when they need it.”
“GP at hand is using new technology in an innovative way to provide care to patients who register with it by using both online and face to face consultations where necessary.
“A clinical review of the service has suggested that there may be real benefits for some patients – what is important now is to understand who the service is most appropriate for, and to fully evaluate the effectiveness of the approach.”
GP at hand, which is powered by digital health provider Babylon, will verify patients’ identification before they can start booking appointments.
Those who live in London within zones one, two and three are currently eligible to register.
Once a patient has successfully registered, their registered GP practice will become the GP at Hand practice and the service does not cost any more than it does for GP registrations at traditional surgeries.
Dr Mobasher Butt, GP at Hand partner, said: “We do everything from grocery shopping to our banking online yet when it comes to our health, it can still take weeks to see a doctor and often means taking time off work for an appointment.”
“With the NHS making use of this technology, we can put patients in front of a GP within minutes on their phone, so the days of ringing frantically at 8am for an appointment should be long gone.”
He said the new NHS service makes it easier for patients to see a doctor quickly at anytime and from anywhere and doesn’t cost the NHS a penny more.
“It’s a win win,” Butt said.
However, the launch of the app has been met with criticism with the Royal College of GPs claiming the scheme simply ‘cherry-picks’ the best patients.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said while some patients will see this as a ‘golden ticket’ to get quick and easy access to a GP – for younger, healthier commuters “it could prove a solution to long waiting times for an appointment.”
“Technology can achieve wonderful things when used properly, but we are really worried that schemes like this are creating a twin-track approach to NHS general practice and that patients are being ‘cherry-picked’, which could actually increase the pressures on traditional GPs based in the community,” Stokes-Lampard said
This month, NHS England launched a £45 million fund to help GP surgeries implement online consultation programmes.
Speaking on the second day of EhiLive on 1 November, head of general practice development at NHS England, Dr Robert Varnam, said the money will be used to implement an online consultation programme for three years across a number of GP practices.
Calling online consultations ‘exciting’, Varnham added: “The future of primary care cannot look like it is now and patient facing technology is a key part of helping the pressure in primary care.”
Visit the GP at Hand website if you are interested in signing up.